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Muhammed Ali, The Great Boxer  

        Muhammad Ali’s prodigious boxing talent was matched only by a towering self-belief."I am the greatest," he said,  who could doubt a man who won the World Heavyweight Championship three times. His outspoken support for civil rights endeared him to millions of people across the world. He was born Cassius Marcellus Clay in Louisville, Kentucky, on 17 January 1942, the son of a sign painter. 

       When Ali was 12, he reported his bicycle had been stolen and told a police officer he was going to "whup" the culprit. The officer, Joe Martin, trained young fighters at a local gym and suggested the youngster learn to box before he challenged the thief. Clay quickly took to the ring, making his competitive debut in 1954 in a three-minute amateur bout.  "He stood out because he had more determination than most boys," Martin later recalled. "He was easily the hardest worker of any kid I ever taught."

       Over the following five years, his amateur career flourished and he won a number of awards including the Golden Gloves Tournament of Champions in 1959. In 1960 he was selected in the US team for the Rome Olympics. At first he refused to go because of his fear of flying. Eventually, according to Joe Martin's son, he bought a second-hand parachute and wore it on the flight. It was worth all the effort. On 5 September 1960, he beat Poland's Zbigniew Pietrzy kowski to become the Olympic light-heavyweight champion. 

          He received a hero's welcome when the team returned to New York but the reality of the segregated US society hit home when he got back to Kentucky and was refused a table in a restaurant. Ali claimed in his 1975 autobiography that he threw away his Olympic medal in disgust but it was later revealed that he lost it a year after his return from Rome.

            Clay was a fierce opponent of the racism that blighted large areas of the United States in the 1960s.

      Clay was already involved with Islam, a religious movement whose stated goals were to improve the spiritual, mental, social, and economic condition of African Americans in the United States.   

         But in contrast to the inclusive approach favored by civil rights leaders like Dr Martin Luther King, the Nation of Islam called for 

separate black development and was treated by suspicion by the American public. Eventually converted to Islam, ditching what he perceived was his "slave name" and becoming Cassius X and then Muhammad Ali.   

       "Ali announced that he is a Sufi around 2005, saying that of all of the sects of Islam, he feels the closest connection to Sufism," says Miller, whose book "Approaching Ali" was released in late 2015.    

      "Sufism is arguably the most peaceful sect of any major or minor religion. Sufis believe that to purposely harm any person is to harm all of humanity, to harm each of us and to damage the world.      

        "It is the perfect fit for Ali, who had been living in the ways that Sufis do for decades before he'd heard of the religion.     

         "Few people have heard about the profound ways Ali's faith has  evolved over the years. He has been a world soul  for many decades; he has grown from separatist touniversalist."

        In 1967, Ali took the momentous decision of opposing the US war in Vietnam, a move that was widely criticized by his fellow Americans. Ali refused to sign the oath of allegiance to join the US Army. He was stripped of his title. He was also given five years in jail, a sentence that was quashed on appeal. After three years of growing anguish among Americans about the Vietnam War, Ali was granted a reprieve and returned to the ring in 1970. Perhaps Ali's greatest moment came in October 1974 when he defeated George Foreman in Zaire in the so-called Rumble in the Jungle.

        Ali lit the 1996 Olympic cauldron in Atlanta. Rumors about Ali's health periodically became a subject of heated discussions in the US and abroad. But he continued to travel, receiving an ecstatic welcome wherever he appeared, especially in the developing world, where he was particularly revered. The millennium celebrations saw Ali honored around the globe. In Britain, BBC viewers voted him Sports Personality of the Century, and he was given a similar award from Sports Illustrated in the US. In 2005, Ali received America's two highest civilian awards - the Presidential Citizens Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom - for "exemplary services" to the country. The same year the opening of the non-profit Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Kentucky, which promotes peace, social responsibility and respect.

       Muhammad Ali's record as a boxer was impressive. The record books show that his professional career spanned 21 years, during which he won 56 fights, 37 by way of knockout, and lost five. But he was much more than that. He was a great showman whose off-the-cuff quips and improvised poetry won him many friends, not least in the UK. His high profile gave his espousal of civil rights additional weight and he was a hero to large numbers of black people both in the US and further afield.  And late in life, when this magnificent athlete was brought low by a debilitating disease, his quiet dignity impressed everyone he met. Rarely has any person transcended his sport in the way Ali did, to become one of the best-known figures of his time.

     Ali was remembered by- "It's a sad day for life, man. I loved Muhammad Ali, he was my friend. Ali will never die. Like Martin Luther King his spirit will live on, he stood for the world.'' - Don King, who promoted many of Ali's fights, including the Rumble in the Jungle. "Muhammad Ali was one of the greatest human beings I have ever met. No doubt he was one of the best people to have lived in this day and age." - George Foreman, Ali's friend and rival in the Rumble in the Jungle. "There will never be another Muhammad Ali. Among others, the black people all around the world, needed him. He was the voice for us. He's the voice for me to be where I'm at today." - Floyd May weather, world champion boxer.